In David Bartholomae’s 1986 article, “Inventing the University”, Bartholomae serves as an advocate for students, encouraging that value be placed on the exploration of their ideas through their writing, and suggesting that literary grace be offered to students as they come into their disciplines and learn how to effectively write in an academic setting. He charges professors with causing students to write outside of their skill and preparedness level and argues that students are pushed to “invent the university” with each class and piece of writing.
In the 30 years since the article was originally published one could explore all of the ways the university and higher education have been, in a sense, reinvented, but there is argument to be made that one key component has single-handedly reinvented the university in ways not imagined at the time of the original article, technology. Technology is now inventing the university.
In the original article, much of the burden was directed towards the university administration, the professors at fault, placing students in a place of dissonance due to gaps in their abilities. That may no longer be the case, as technology is placing burdens on both sides, professors, and students, to address communication styles, time-orientation, originality, and mechanics.
Technology has changed the context in which students operate and communicate outside of the classroom. Consider the culture of communication now – text messages replacing phone conversations, emails replacing hand-written letters, character-limited social media platforms (Twitter), status updates, abbreviations and acronyms, the use of emoji’s to convey feelings, etc. In a world where value is placed on communicating as quickly, efficiently, and in as few characters as possible, universities and professors are now challenged to somehow balance the way students are used to communicating, exploring their ideas and feelings in their lives outside of the classroom with the expectations doing those very same things in academia, but in a much different context: well thought out and articulated, elaborated upon, intricately documented, and indicative of quality time contributed to the end product.
Much of the writing that is incorporated with academia consists of some form of research. Technology has also reinvented what research looks like in the university, from serving as a vast portal to information and resources, to professors having students research, not just about their content, ideas, and supporting evidence, but about their mechanics, editing, and basic format. For example, in a class last semester, I was introduced to legal writing for the first time in an employment law class, for our class project the professor instructed us to Google a template and that three or four would come up for us to get an idea from. That is a glaring shift in the university at the hands of technology.
Technology’s unique role in research and student’s writing is also creating a new challenge, for both students and professors, where students must learn to balance the push for and exploration of original, creative ideas with the support and citation of anything that is not an original idea. In an era when students are exposed to such a vast array of information at every turn, this adds another element to university writing.
The question becomes how the university embraces the future, and technology, without it reinventing in a way that sacrifices guided self-discovery, academic fundamentals, and the caliber of scholarship?